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Utah PAC created to help Huntsman raises, spends more than $2.1 million

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 31 2011 8:43 p.m. MDT

Jon Huntsman Jr.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — More than $2.1 million was raised — and spent — by a Utah-based political action committee formed to help former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.'s presidential bid.  

The Horizon Political Action Committee, headquartered in downtown Salt Lake City, reported collecting individual contributions of as much as $250,000 from around the country since the first of the year — and spending all but about $21,000. 

Big donors include Huntsman's parents and other family members, as well as Gail Miller, widow of the late Utah Jazz owner Larry H. Miller; Trammell Crow, a Texas-based real estate developer; and media mogul Herbert Siegel.

The PAC's disclosure report, filed with the Utah lieutenant governor's office just before the 6 p.m. Wednesday deadline, shows the money was used to pay for administrative costs, travel, research and consultants, including several who are on the campaign payroll. 

Among those is the campaign's senior adviser, John Weaver, whose firm, The Network Companies, was paid $90,000 in early February, shortly after Huntsman advised the Obama administration he would soon step down as U.S. ambassador to China.

But the Huntsman campaign said repeatedly the money raised by the PAC was not used to help Huntsman's White House run.

That's despite a fundraising email for the PAC sent by Zions Bank President and CEO Scott Anderson in March, while Huntsman was still U.S. ambassador to China. The email, first reported by Politico, described the PAC as not associated with Huntsman "at this time" but said it "is ready to assist him if he decides to run for the presidency in 2012 and/or 2016."

Anderson encouraged donations of $50,000 to $100,000. His email pointed out that as a Utah entity, the PAC could accept individual and corporate contributions in unlimited amounts. Contributions to federal campaign organizations are limited to $2,500.

A spokesman for the Horizon PAC, Jeff Cohen, said the PAC "did not provide assistance to Jon Huntsman at any time." Asked if Anderson's solicitation was a mistake, Cohen said, "probably, because what was said did not happen." 

Cohen, who responded to a phone call placed to Anderson, said the money raised "was spent to start and operate Horizon PAC," not Huntsman's campaign-in-waiting.

Horizon PAC was widely described in the national media as just that, a ready-made campaign organization waiting for Huntsman to return to the U.S. and decide whether to jump into the race.

Campaign spokesman Tim Miller had no comment about what he did for Horizon PAC, which paid him some $35,000 through mid-May. Miller had served as spokesman for what was called Huntsman's "campaign-in-waiting" before Huntsman entered the race in late June.

Miller, too, said Horizon PAC "is a completely distinct organization than Jon Huntsman for President. Jon Huntsman for President received absolutely no gifts, contributions or assistance from Horizon PAC."

Jeff Wright, the campaign's Utah-based volunteer finance chairman, said he knew nothing about Horizon PAC because it is "completely independent of the campaign, and there can be no coordination" under federal campaign law. 

Wright said he disagreed with a report that appeared in Politico this week that suggested a new Super PAC formed to raise money for Huntsman and headed by his former media strategist was a sign of financial trouble.

A Super PAC, new this election cycle, allows unlimited amounts of money to be raised to support a campaign as long as the PAC does not coordinate with the campaign. Huntsman has yet to poll beyond single digits nationally or in states where's he's campaigning.

"I would disagree with that assessment, that there are money troubles," Wright said. "August is always a tough month for fundraising, but we'll meet our goal." He declined to be specific about the amount raised.

Huntsman, he said, will be back in Utah in October to raise money.

E-mail: lisa@desnews.com Twitter: dnewspolitics

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